[21 June 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s rare when a modern movie doesn’t answer all of its lingering questions. It’s the daring piece that puts elements out there without wrapping them up in a nice, neat narrative bow. Though it has issues of its own (especially a sloppy first third which seems to meander on endlessly) and characters that take a long time to care about, the latest film from mumblecore experts Mark and Jay Duplass—Cyrus—actually offers such an open-ended finale. Of course, to discuss this subject, and at least three interpretations on what could potentially happen next, we have to delve into SPOILER territory. If you’ve seen the film, the information won’t be new. If you haven’t, it might not ruin the experience for you, but it will definitely divulge at least some of how the filmmakers views their comic drama.
The movie centers around an unusual love “triangle” between a divorced 40-something free-lance editor named John (John C. Reilly), a similarly aged single mom named Molly (Marisa Tomei), and her veal like 21 year old New Age musician wannabe son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). At first, the relationship seems muddled by secrets on both sides. He doesn’t want to divulge his part in his past break-up as well as a life in desperate search for a sensible partner. She thinks having an adult son still living at home will put off any potential suitor. Luckily, John like Cyrus and, at first, it looks like the feeling is mutual. But slowly, over time, we see Molly’s onerous offspring lie, connive, and manipulate the budding relationship to the point where our couple calls it quits—if only temporarily.
Now (SPOILER ALERT) John knows that Cyrus is a schemer. He tries to outsmart the kid at every turn. Eventually, he feels beaten, especially after an incident where the boy leaves home (under the auspices of sharing a house with some fellow musicians), disappears, and then returns feigning panic attacks. Because she has never been without her “little man”, Molly is devastated. Cyrus’ plan works and the two separate. But after seeing how hard being apart is on his mom, the title character goes to John, confesses all, makes amends, and convinces him to come back and try to make things work. The last scene in the film is of a outwardly dejected Cyrus walking up the driveway of his home, Molly giving a reluctant if relieved wave to a smiling and satisfied John.
So the question becomes, what happens next? Will it be smooth sailing from here on out? Will Cyrus leave the two alone, or is this just another part of the plot to end the future for these two once and for all (or is it something much, much worse)? With three possibilities in play, we can look over the options and see which would make the most satisfying plot punctuation mark, beginning with what is arguably the most mainstream, and therefore, the most boring:
Cyrus Acquiesces and Becomes a Good Stepson
The look of defeat on his face could be a ploy, but the way in which the Duplasses demarcate the character’s walk up the drive seems to indicate that they too believe Cyrus is a changed young man. There are visual hints throughout the last ten minutes, from the look of sadness on his face as his mother sits depressed on the couch, barely connecting to the channels she is clicking through on the television. We also know that John feels a certain level of discomfort on how things ended up, especially by pushing Cyrus as much as he did. With a wedding day altercation as the crux (don’t worry - it was for John’s ex) and a need to show growth on all sides, this becomes the most logical answer. After all, why bring the bane of your existence back into your home…unless, you want to continue the clash, thus leading us to potential outcome number two:
Cyrus Continues the Battle of Wits
As we see throughout the film, the title character is well versed in turning lovers against each other. Even when they can’t always see it, John and Molly are worked by Cyrus like a dockside call girl. They honestly don’t recognize it most of the time (she much less than he). In fact, for the rest of his days he can play mixer and mediator, forcing the two apart only to don the diplomat’s cap and negotiate yet another in a long line of tender truces. Since we’ve seen him do it for most of the movie, it’s not impossible to believe that this is something Cyrus gets off on, a way of being needed even when he’s really nothing more than an aggravating third wheel. As long as Molly and John will play along - and not push him too far out into the real world - he could literally go on until they give up, or give in. Naturally, if this requires too much heavily lifting for the dejected kid, there’s always another way out:
Cyrus Kills Himself
One of the more intriguing conclusions to this war of wills would see Cyrus slowly walking up the driveway as his Mom and John reunite, resolved to do whatever it takes to end this pairing once and for all. Switch to a scene where Molly and her new beau are snuggling on the sofa, cooing and making small talk as the camera pans away from the couple and down the hall. There, we find a partially opened garage door, a slit of light, a single shot, and blurry but still able to be made out, a silhouette of Cyrus hanging from the rafters. Think about it - it’s the ultimate payback for a man who’s ruined your 21 year stint as apple of his needy parent’s eye. If he chooses life and fights, he risks failing. If he lives and plays, he truly has lost his Mom forever. So what would a coddled and catered to child without anything substantive to live for except the comeuppance of the man who destroyed his world choose to do? An act so shocking that no one could accept it - nor could they embrace the outsider who came in and - apparently - pushed the boy to such a senseless act. Point. Match. Game.